Politics & Government

Equity initiative on the agenda for Tacoma council next week

Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act was signed, Tacoma City Council members say there is still more to do to promote equity.

Tuesday the council will consider formally supporting its top policy objective for the year: an equity and empowerment initiative.

If successful, city government’s workforce will be more diverse, city staffers will include more underrepresented communities in conversations, and city budgets will be crafted as staff members ask how decisions impact minority neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker, who is co-sponsoring the initiative with Councilwoman Victoria Woodards, said she recently started asking where most of the city’s road projects were happening and where economic development was taking place.

“They were happening outside of the low-income, diverse neighborhoods,” she said. “… all of that money has an impact on how people live their lives.”

While equity initiatives such as Seattle’s have focused on race, Walker said there was a desire to include more than racial minorities in Tacoma’s version.

“There are people who fall into national origins more, or (those with) disabilities,” she said. “We wanted words that were inclusive of all people.”

In March, the council identified equity and empowerment as the top priority for the council this year.

Tuesday’s resolution does not outline specific steps Tacoma will take to address inequity, but it does give staffers the go-ahead to work toward several goals, Woodards said.

Those goals include “the city of Tacoma workforce reflects the community it serves,” a “commitment to equity in local government decision-making,” and “support human rights and opportunities for everyone to achieve their full potential.”

Some changes can be simple, Woodards said. The city can post jobs in community centers, churches and advertise in specific venues that might attract a more diverse applicant pool.

“You can’t just do everything online,” Woodards said. “Not everyone has a computer.”

The city has already taken measures to better consider minority communities in making decisions. More than 100 city staffers have been trained on the use of a “racial equity tool” for budgeting, which encourages staffers to consider communities that are harmed or helped by budget decisions. Julie Nelson, former head of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights, explained the budgeting tool to the City Council in July.

Besides Seattle, other cities around the country also are working on equity initiatives, including Portland and Minneapolis.

“It seemed like it was time for the city to be proactive about making our city reflective of our citizens and to help us all to include every citizen in the city,” Walker said.